Zero Percent is a startup based at 1871 that coordinates excess food donations and pickups at local restaurants and nonprofits. (Zero Percent photo) Distributing food to the needy is often more problematic than supplying it in Chicago. Good food goes to waste at downtown restaurants because nonprofits, many of…
Distributing food to the needy is often more problematic than supplying it in Chicago.
Good food goes to waste at downtown restaurants because nonprofits, many of which are located on the outskirts of the city, don’t have the resources to go pick up leftovers.
So Zero Percent, a startup based at 1871 that coordinates excess food donations and pickups, is launching a new crowdfunding platform to raise money for nonprofits that can’t afford to pay for the gas or workers it takes to pick up food. During its Restaurant Giving Week through Sunday, diners can donate $5 to charity and get a treat in return.
The startup launched at the EnterpriseWorks incubator in the Research Park at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign three years ago and moved to Chicago in September 2013 to go through Impact Engine’s accelerator at 1871. It has four full-time employees, and its reach has stretched far since it moved its platform to town.
About 100 businesses — including corporate cafeterias, grocery stores and restaurants such as Eataly and Hannah’s Bretzel — use Zero Percent’s platform to donate their extra food. Restaurants pay to use Zero Percent, which helps pay for the company’s operations. Raj Karmani, founder and CEO of Zero Percent, said that is typically $60 to $100 per month, depending on the amount of food being donated.
Nonprofits using the platform don’t have to pay, they just have to show up at the restaurants and get the food. As of December, the startup’s logistical solutions have helped keep 1 million pounds of food out of landfills, Karmani said. There are 80 nonprofits receiving food, but 250 have signed up.
“There is a need. We have the supply, we have the logistics, all we need is to field the logistics,” Karmani said. “You solve hunger by consistently supplying food … how can we scale these logistics so we can get this food that is available.”
That’s where this new crowdfunding platform, Foodrescue.io, comes in, Karmani said. It asks consumers for $5 donations, which helps produce 15 to 25 meals. People can pick which charity their donation goes to, and it gets 100 percent of the donation.
Foodrescue.io launched Monday with Restaurant Giving Week, a promotion that gives donating customers a voucher for a treat at one of the participating restaurants. The promotion only runs through Sunday, but Zero Percent plans to use the crowdfunding platform indefinitely.
Jessica Droste Yagan ⇒, CEO of Impact Engine, said Zero Percent has found a way to use technology to make a difference by connecting the right restaurants to the right organizations. A crowdfunding campaign will leverage a new group of people.
“It might be an important missing piece to help the whole system move forward better,” she said.
Farmer’s Fridge, which has 37 kiosks throughout the Chicago area that dispense fresh food, uses Zero Percent’s services at least five days a week, said CEO and founder Luke Saunders. The company pays Zero Percent about $250 a month, which Saunders said is far less than it would spend finding its own ways to avoiding waste.
When Saunders launched Farmer’s Fridge, he planned to do what he could to prevent waste, he said. Getting customers involved helps perpetuate that mission.
“You first have this element of just the awareness that customers are patronizing places that are doing the right thing,” he said. “We’re basically asking the customers to participate in that as a way to really magnify the impact we have.”
Zero Percent plans to launch in Nashville and Minneapolis later this year, and incorporate the crowdfunding aspect in those cities from the beginning. It closed its last round of funding in April 2014 and has raised a total of $250,000 in investment capital.
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